Discovering a Geisha By Amelie Palmer, Claire Garvin, Devon Russell, and Natalia Santiago

Table of Contents


An exerpt from "Days of a Geisha" , a journal by Natalia Santiago

"Safe Haven" a sculpture by Devon Russell

An exerpt from "Days of a Geisha" , a journal by Natalia Santiago

"There's More to See Than What's on the Outside" a storybook by Claire Garvin

An exerpt from "Days of a Geisha" , a journal by Natalia Santiago

"Sayuri's Portrait" a painting by Amelie Palmer

An exerpt from "Days of a Geisha" , a journal by Natalia Santiago



In this magazine, we will be revealing and shedding some light on the fascinating geisha culture. The white-faced hostesses-for-hire of Japanese culture used to be all the rage. The objective of this magazine is to show you the lifestyle, culture, and traditions of the geisha, as well as their habits and purpose. Read to learn how a geisha prepares herself to entertain her clients, the rigorous journey of blossoming into the geisha career, and the overall experience of the geisha lifestyle. The magazine also features a special reference to the famous book-turned-movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Every project done for this magazine is put together to show you anything and everything you would want (or need) to know about the geisha career or this part of the Japanese culture itself.

The products created have lent a helping hand in showing the way of geisha life. Art is a very important way to express yourself and explain the incredible ways of life. Devon Russell has created a detailed sculpture of a Japanese Buddhist Temple and it’s connected Zen garden. In her own way, Claire Garvin has made a children’s story from Memoirs of a Geisha into a reality. Amelie Palmer painted an original portrait of the main character, Sayuri Nitta. Finally, Natalia Santiago brought the book to life by creating an in depth journal from the point of view of a young girl making her way into the exciting life of a geisha.

The magazine and its projects all focus on Japanese, or more specifically, geisha culture. We have most recently read the book Memoirs of a Geisha and researched certain aspects of the novel. Please enjoy the magazine and its works made by the group that produced them and the magazine itself.

An excerpt from "Days of a Geisha", a journal by Natalia Santiago

January 25, 1936

My name is Ena, in case you are wondering, that means a gift from God. I was given that name because my mother always said how amazing of a daughter I was. I was the happiest of girls but all that happiness turned into sorrow in a matter of minutes. As my family was in the car, we crashed and I was the only survivor. You might say I'm lucky, but my life changed when I was sold off. At first I had no clue what was going on until the mother of the house told me that I would be taught the ways and lifestyle of a geisha and that I would begin as a maid. If I met the households expectations, they would send me off to begin the schooling of geisha. I will start to record my thoughts because as of right now, life is a journey. It is far too hard to remember everything. As of today, I do not know where I want my life to go and I'm quite too confused as a 12 year old girl to really know where my life is at this very moment. Today I cleaned the house and ran errands for Auntie and Mother and the head geisha, Sayuri, is very kind and each day as I watch her prepare for her clients I seem to envy her more and more and I just seem to wonder when I will look like that. When will cloak veiling me from sight be lifted? Will I ever become someone?

January 28, 1936

I am now going to begin schooling. I am a Maiko which is the stage of training and I learned the art of conversation and dance today. This is my third day at this school and to be said, it is very tough. The teachers are very hard on us and they have no shame in pointing you out. I am very behind in all of my classes . I learned that my schooling, medical bills, and food will be added up and I must pay it off when I become a geisha. Every night, since I am the newest geisha, I must stay up and wait for Sayuri to come home for the night, which is usually very late. I have to help her get ready for bed and get her everything that she needs. In order to move to the next step and become a Minarai, I have to either be proficient or advanced in all my classes. I am very determined and I know what I need to do to get there. It will not be easy but I knew I was capable.

"Safe Haven" by Devon Russell

The title of my sculpture is “Safe Haven” because I believe that temples and churches are built to help people feel at home when they're there, and even safe. On the walls of the temple are small hangings in the shape of a wheel. That wheel is the symbol of Buddhism. The term turning of the wheel always means Buddha giving teachings. When Buddhists request their lamas or gurus to give teachings, they use the term “turn the wheel of dharma”. The shrine in the temple is for meditation. The meditation space is usually very bare except for the offerings. Common offerings are things such as flowers and metal gifts.

The fabric used for the rug and tapestry have patterns that resemble a lotus flower. The lotus flower is a symbol of purity and enlightenment, and in all Buddhist traditions, the deities are typically shown sitting or standing on a lotus or holding a lotus. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. Buddhist deities are enlightened beings who grew out of the mud of the material world, like the lotus flower. They are considered beautiful and pure even though they grew up in the "muddy" material world. The open blossom represents the possibility of universal salvation for all sentient beings. The lotus is one of the most widely known symbols of Buddhism.

The Zen garden is a very common thing to have in the Buddhist culture. Although many temples do not have them, I thought it was fitting to include it in my project. The garden helps people relax and calm. Typical Zen gardens do not have water but rather have water like “ripples” raked into the sand. The garden can be used as meditation but it was also built as a place of beauty.

An excerpt from "Days of a Geisha", a journal by Natalia Santiago

February 10, 1936

Today was the worst day of my life and I do not think I will ever become a geisha. I was late to school and when I came home mother beat me with her stick because she said that I have been slacking and she will not raise a lazy, disrespectful girl. At this point I am no longer the girl I thought I was, and I know that now my life will no longer be a walk at the park and more of a one way dark tunnel. I have been given no more opportunities and now my life and the path it must go on is already planned out. Maybe becoming a geisha is not what I thought it would be. I plan on running away but my conscience is telling me that it will not end well. What will happen if I get caught? What will happen to me if I do escape and where do I go?

February 20,1937

I made the choice to not run away because something told me it would not go right. My mother once told me if I felt even a bit of guilt in my stomach then I was about to make a very wrong decision. Just as I thought things were taking a turn for the worst, I ended up progressing in all my classes and soon became a Minarai. To many this might not be seen as such a big deal because as a Minarai you are seen not heard. Sayuri has now become my big sister. As a Minarai, you follow your big sister around and watch the way she does every little thing. I was happy to know that I would become Sayuri’s younger sister because one thing about Sayuri was that she was very popular.

February 25, 1937

Today was the day that Sayuri and I had the ceremony that would soon make us sisters for eternity, I was quite nervous at first and had no idea what to expect but at the same time it was a good nervous. After the ceremony, I followed Sayuri around to see the everyday life of a geisha and let me tell you, it is exhausting. The very next day Sayuri showed me how to put makeup on. First, you must cover the face with white paint, then you must put on red lipstick but not on the whole lip. Then you must put the white paint on the back of your neck but leave almost like a w shape on the back of just your skin. She explained that men are the most attracted to the neck of a geisha. She then continued to explain to me how a geisha must live her life and that a true geisha does not base her whole life upon sex and men. She told me a geisha is a woman of the art and dance.

"There's More to See Than What's on the Outside" by Claire Garvin

An excerpt from "Days of a Geisha", a journal by Natalia Santiago

March 5, 1938

Today Sayuri allowed me to participate in a tea ceremony, flower arrangements, calligraphy, dancing, and the art of conversation. As we arrived at a party, Sayuri was in front of me and a peculiar man called us over and he then asked Sayuri what my name was. He took my hand and kissed it which for me was a little weird but then later Sayuri told me that that is normal and it is usually what a man would do if he sees a beautiful girl. As we sat there conversing for about an hour, I seemed quite out of place and no matter how many people tried talking to me, I just seem to not want to be there. Sayuri then told the men that there is another party we must attend. I keep thinking to myself how could I do this for a large part of my life?

September 10, 1939

Today is the day that I finally became something more than just a little girl who had nothing going for her. I am finally becoming a geisha. My new name is Hayami which means rare and unusual beauty, As soon as the ceremony was over, we went out and celebrated After the ceremony Sayuri and I went to a party. She took me there so I could present myself as a true geisha and so her clients can become acquainted with me. As I sat down and looked over, there were two geisha staring at me, almost in a way that made me feel uncomfortable.

September 25, 1939

Today was an amazing day because Mother told me that I payed off all my debts, which is very unheard of for a geisha with less than a year of experience. I am not a very accomplished geisha. Mother said she will most likely adopt me. I will inherit everything, including the house. I am grateful for Mother choosing me but inheriting also puts a load of weight on my shoulders. My life had took a fascinating turn and as a 18 year old geisha, I had yet to realize what my future holds for me.

"Sayuri's Portrait" by Amelie Palmer

For the project, I chose to make a portrait of Sayuri, the main character of the book we have read (Memoirs of a Geisha). Before I began on the portrait, I did research on how geisha apply their makeup. The research helped me with knowing how Sayuri should look in the portrait. After I did my research, I came up with what the portrait should look and came up with a few sketches The one I chose was inspired by the poster for the movie that was based off the book Memoirs of a Geisha. The picture is of a close-up to Sayuri’s face, which displays the accurate makeup of a geisha like her (white face, red lips, marked eyebrows, no eyeshadow).

In the portrait, the entire background is made up of black which is really Sayuri’s hair. The black hair brings out Sayuri’s face more as well other features in the portrait. Even though geisha usually wear their hair up, they will have their hair partially down with decorations in them when they’re performing in shows (dances and plays). Strands of her hair are blown across her face partially to show that her hair is flowing, thus framing her face and accentuating its features further. Her hair is covered in dots of blue, which could be rain to the person viewing the picture or hair decorations. Either way it would mean something: the rain would be a reference to her eyes being described as “the color of rain” and the decorations would be for her job as a geisha since one of the important accessories for a geisha is hair ornaments. Along with the blue dots are white/silver blossoms and petals. The blossoms are a big part of Japanese culture and the reason for the silver is to reference at the gray in Sayuri’s eyes.

Sayuri’s face is left blank and white minus her nose, her round and partially painted red lips (geisha tradition), her soft eyebrows, and her eyes. The eyes are outlined thickly with black since geisha use eyeliner and the blackness defines Sayuri’s eyes more. While most geisha would have a small amount of red eyeshadow, Sayuri wouldn’t since she’s more advanced in her career than younger geisha (eyeshadow amount decreases as geisha advance in their career). For the irises, her unusual eye color is painted with a blue-silver paint to bring more recognition to Sayuri’s most defining feature: her blue-gray eyes. Sayuri’s eyes are remarked on throughout the book and bring her a lot of attention.

Her lips are oval-shaped and painted bright red, though her lips are completely painted. Geisha don’t paint their whole lips, only some of it. As for the eyebrows, they’re painted softly and lightly since geisha stencil their eyebrows on the white paint of their faces. At the bottom of the poster is Sayuri’s name written written in thick, bright blue paint. This is supposed to make the painting look like an advertising poster for her, like if she is being featured in a show performance, thus showing her fame and success as a professional geisha.

An excerpt from "Days of a Geisha", a journal by Natalia Santiago

October 11, 1940

Today my mizuage was sold, which is a geisha's virginity. The more successful you are, the more money you are likely to earn from your mizuage. I was so scared and did not know whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, so I chose to just not think about it at all. I then had one of the highest bids in geisha history and Mother was very pleased. The man who won was a 35 year old successful business owner by the name of Tayo. He had short black hair, brown eyes with a perfectly oval face.

December 15, 1940

Today I met with Tayo at a hotel for my mizuage. Afterwards, he gave me a beautiful kimono with yellow flowers and white branches on it. It was a very expensive gift and I thanked him for minutes straight. As a geisha you, must never be seen in the same kimono twice because it may bore the clients to see the same kimono multiple times. I then went straight home and Mother told me to come to her room. I was quite confused of what she wanted but she soon began to discuss with me that I must now take a danna. So we meet with a man named Tayako, who had interest in becoming my danna. Mother made the choice that he would become my danna. The worst thing about danna is that you cannot choose your danna, he chooses you. Although Tayako would not be my first choice, I still was very thankful to be a young geisha with a danna. After Tayako left, Sayuri called me to her room and told me she wanted to talk to me about my danna and what I must do to please him. She said “Hayami, you must listen to whatever your danna says and do whatever it takes to please him.”

April 17, 1950

It has been a long time since my last entry. Mother has passed and Sayuri has moved out of the Gion to start her own life and family while I left in charge of the oikya. As I look back on my life, I realize how accomplished I am. I'm so lucky to be a geisha who has reached such a high point in her life. One thing you must know about geisha is that not all will become a success and not all will be who they want to.


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